A Town Divided: Small Town Michigan Torn Over Housing Migrant Children

la-20140613-003Editor’s Note: The immigration crisis isn’t just affecting Texas or other border states. Michigan is feeling the heat, too. Some residents feel welcoming the illegal immigrants will give the town a financial boost, while others don’t feel the same way. 

When people opposed to housing young Central American immigrants here claimed the youths worked for drug cartels, Adam Barden was frustrated.

When the opponents attended demonstrations armed with semi-automatic rifles, he was perplexed.

And when they threatened to boycott his hardware store for not agreeing with them, he got angry.

“They’re doing damage to our community,” said Barden, 38, owner of True Value. “It really ticks you off.”

A bitter national debate over what to do with tens of thousands of young immigrants pouring into the U.S. is playing out in this small town 20 miles east of Saginaw.

The heavy-handed tactics, mostly from out-of-town groups, are bruising feelings and plunging the already financially reeling community into further turmoil, residents said.

The issue was highly charged even before the opponents held two demonstrations and a raucous community meeting earlier this month.

Among those chafing at the methods are conservative residents.

“Rumors are as good as facts around here,” said T.J. Beckman, 25, a pet groomer who would welcome the children.

Crystal Damico, co-owner of Crystal’s County Cuts pet grooming, also supports the arrival of the immigrants.

Damico, trimming a trembling poodle in her downtown shop last week, said one of her relatives would remove her child from the school system if the “Mexican” children come.

The immigrants are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and would be taught at the facility housing them, not in local schools.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Damico, 30, who is part Hispanic. “They’re making something out of nothing.”

The source of all the friction is a proposal to house 120 migrant children at a sprawling juvenile treatment facility run by the private Wolverine Human Services of Grosse Pointe Park.

The youths, ages 12-17, would stay at the facility’s tree-laden, 130-acre campus for two to four weeks while officials connect them with a relative or sponsor, said Derrick McCree, senior vice president for Wolverine.

They’re among 57,000 immigrants who have entered the U.S. alone after fleeing drug-related violence in the Central American countries since the fall.

“We’ll do anything in our power to help children,” McCree said.

The federal government is reviewing the proposal, but no timetable has been set for a decision.

‘We have nothing’

In Vassar, rows of petunias lining downtown streets offer a bright spot in the community of 2,700.

The white, pink, red and purple flowers contrast with a steady beat of grim economic news.

The Vassar Theatre, the only movie house, closed in March.

Betty Lou’s, a popular restaurant with a fading mural of “Indian Dave” on the façade, succumbed before that.

A long-struggling foundry that once was a major employer finally shuttered to fiscal reality.

Rod Diener, 53, ticked off the closings as he waited for his laundry at Vassar Laundromat, the closest one to his home six miles away.

“I don’t know why they picked Vassar,” said Diener, who is unemployed. “We have nothing.”

One reason residents would welcome the Central Americans is the financial boost they would provide.

Their arrival would create jobs at Wolverine, which has 120 empty beds, said McCree. It also would increase state funding to the school district, whose teachers would travel to the facility.

But other residents feel the economic boost isn’t worth it. They said the U.S. should be more concerned about helping veterans and the elderly than people entering the country illegally.

This article continues at Detroitnews.com


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